Lightning is a worldwide phenomenon, but it can become severely disturbing, and even deadly, when schools and pupils are not properly equipped to handle it.
In Uganda, which has one of the world’s highest rates of lightning strike fatalities, an education official from the western Kisoro District recently said, “Children get killed by lightning, the school calls you and asks for help, but you don’t have a response plan.”
Natural disasters and conflicts wreak havoc on the education system
Earlier this year, eight students in his district were killed or injured at once by lightning and more than 160 children across the country lost their lives to lightning in 2014. However, only six of the 140 government-aided primary and secondary schools in Kisoro have lightning arresters.
There are also no contingency plans and life-saving advice that could prevent children and teachers from getting struck by lightning is rarely provided.
Meanwhile, in the northern Oyam District, head teachers discuss the triggers behind another source of danger facing students and the whole school environment: frequent land conflicts that lead to school closures and result in dropouts.
A lack of land titles – an official record of who owns a piece of land – often results in disputes over ownership, boundaries, access to shared resources such as water points, and disagreements over trespassing and use of school facilities by community members.
Out of the 109 government-supported primary schools in Oyam, not a single school possesses a land title, and learning environments all too often become a stage of diverging interests and claims.
These are only two of many encounters the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) has had during its support to the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports (MoESTS) in Uganda, in collaboration with UNICEF Uganda’s Peacebuilding, Education, and Advocacy (PBEA) program. Together, this work has illustrated how conflict and natural disasters hamper the delivery of quality education and jeopardize the achievement of Uganda’s education goals.
Addressing conflict and disaster risks in and through education
The Government of Uganda, through the MoESTS, is committed to addressing both conflict and disaster through and in education. It is doing so by developing and implementing systemic policies, plans, programs and curricula for conflict and disaster risk management (CDRM) to ensure that the right to a quality education is delivered regardless of the circumstances.
The development of the CDRM Guidelines for Educational Institutions in Uganda marked the beginning of Uganda’s CDRM agenda, which aims to move away from short-term quick fixes and towards a practice of prevention and preparedness for crisis in and through education.
Planning for CDRM includes a shift from a largely reactive response to incidents of conflict and natural disasters towards a proactive position that includes strengthening education sector capacities to prevent, anticipate, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the impacts of conflict and disaster risks.
The guidelines outline the different roles of teachers, learners, and school management committees in taking action to avert conflict and disaster, and making the school a safe and peaceful place for children to learn and thrive.
Launched in 2015, the guidelines are currently being operationalized in Uganda’s most-affected districts, including through child-friendly CDRM learning materials for upper and post-primary classes developed the National Curriculum Development Centre with UNICEF support.
Strengthening education sector capacities for CDRM in Uganda
With support from UNICEF Uganda’s PBEA programme and IIEP-UNESCO, the ministry has trained a critical mass of ‘CDRM champions’ at central and district levels in Uganda.
To date, it has reached 150 education policy-makers, planners, technical staff, administration officers and school inspectors from 30 districts across the country. This has led to an increasing number of districts to include CDRM measures in their respective five-year District Development Plans and education sector action plans.
The Kisoro and Oyam districts have also developed complementary risk assessment and monitoring tools for schools and the District Education Department. Today, nearly 100% of head teachers of government-aided primary schools in both districts have been trained on assessing vulnerabilities and capacities. As a result, they are now able to develop CDRM school plans that include strategies for preventing and mitigating identified risks. District Education Officers will be equipped with data that will help to lobby for funding CDRM activities, such as the purchase of lightning arrestors.
Observed strategies include mock safety drills, regular communication between schools and police to share updated security information for example in areas prone to conflict, planting trees around schools that act as wind breakers and aid in the prevention of soil erosion as well as applying a flexible school calendar to ensure that children are not exposed to seasonal flooding in the school or surrounding areas.
Where resources are dire, districts often revert to “low-cost” activities, such as community dialogue and negotiation, to prevent and mitigate conflict and disaster risks, such as around land titles. Some communities have also purchased lightning arresters where District Local Governments have failed to provide them.
Sustaining gains: next steps for Uganda’s CDRM agenda in education
At the central level, the Ministry is in the process of including CDRM in the school inspection instrument that allows school inspectors to assess risks to learners, teachers and education provision in and around schools. By integrating CDRM-specific indicators as an integral part of its education management information system, Uganda is on the way to developing a solid basis for evidence-based planning for CDRM.
Uganda’s lessons in moving towards educational planning for CDRM
Throughout this work, IIEP has identified a number of lessons that can be applied to adjust system approaches and better plan for education in crises. Above all, it requires capacities at all levels, including for:
- Understanding the causes, drivers and dynamics of conflict and disaster and education’s multiple faces in crisis. A good understanding of the institutional culture, policies and funding mechanisms are also crucial to address conflict and disaster in and through education.
- Finding local solutions through a participatory approach. Working with those affected by conflict and disaster is crucial. Learners, teachers, communities, partner agencies, education policy makers, planners and technical staff at all levels can play a role in putting existing capacities to use and building a critical mass of capacity for CDRM.
- Moving from ad-hoc to evidence-based CDRM planning. A new set of skills and incentives are required. This includes the collection and processing of data to analyze and monitor how risks impact education and vice versa. Where data analysis skills and incentives are weak, CDRM should be integrated into pre-existing data collection mechanisms, especially those which have the potential to provide rapid analytics with minimal treatment (such as UNICEF’s mobile phone based data-collection system, EduTrac).
- Creating a culture of learning. Adapting partnerships, coordination and funding to the local context for more efficient and cost-effective planning for CDRM is key. Funding at decentralized level is often scarce and requires a cross-departmental and cross-sectoral approach.
IIEP’s Uganda country case study will be released soon at www.education4resilience.org. Additional resources can be found here to help countries build resilience through educational planning and curriculum.